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Province examining if municipalities can pass single-use item bylaws

For the MGA or not for the MGA, that is the question when it concerns single-use items.
Who knew that these items could make such a mess? Premier Danielle Smith has asked Municipal Affairs to investigate who has the authority to control these frequently used but much-maligned objects.

Premier Danielle Smith has asked Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver to investigate on the province’s power to intervene when municipalities introduce their own rules over restrictions on single-use items.

"We have had to step in when we think that municipalities are going a step too far on certain issues," Smith said during a press event on Jan. 25.

As far as Smith is concerned, the problem with such bans is obvious.

“I can tell you I’ve heard that there was near mutiny on wing night in some restaurants because you have to ask whether or not people want napkins. I mean, some things are just so obvious that you need napkins when it’s wing night. I think there’s a little bit of ideology getting ahead of common sense here,” she said.

“If we’ve got a garbage management problem, let’s figure out how to manage the garbage. Let’s figure out better waste collection and incineration. I think we have to have policies that put people first and some of these are really just putting ideology ahead of common sense.”

Recently, Calgary became the latest Alberta municipality in Alberta to introduce restrictions on single-use items, the result being a minimum fee charged for paper and reusable bags and providing foodware accessories by request only.

At the end of January, Calgary City Council had voted to begin the process to consider repealing the existing Single-Use Items Bylaw after deliberation and consideration of various factors that impact the city’s residents, businesses and waste reduction efforts.

Jasper has had a Plastic Checkout Bag Ban since 2019. When conducting its public consultation before the ban was instituted, most residents who responded cited that the municipality as a national park community should be a leader in environmental stewardship.

The feedback noted that such changes are part of a global movement in protecting the environment, with issues like climate change and negative effects on wildlife being cited as arguments for the ban.

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland said the municipal government at the time was largely responding to the will of the people.

Since then, he hasn’t heard any dispute over the action from the offices of the Premier or the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

“The province has had ample time to consider whether we went a step too far. We've had five years to think about that, and they’ve said nothing,” he said, referring to what’s happening in the world of single-use items on the national scale.

Canada implemented a single-use plastics ban in December 2022, scheduling a phased-out approach for plastic checkout bags, cutlery, stir sticks and straws, along with some medical and accessibility exceptions.

Several large plastic companies launched a lawsuit against the federal government, citing the ban listed certain plastics (such as straws) as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

In November 2023, the Federal Court agreed with the companies and the decision is now being appealed.

“The technical issues of that are more about the labeling of substances as toxic. Our bylaw doesn’t step in that direction at all,” Mayor Ireland said.

“Our bylaw is a waste reduction bylaw. I think council was satisfied at the time, and I remain satisfied, that we proceeded in compliance with the law, which of course is a law that is set by the province.”

Whether such actions fall within the realm of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) or not is now up to Minister McIver to determine.

“Calgary City council is moving in the right direction by starting the repeal process for their single-use items bylaw that wrongfully adds costs to consumers and doesn’t effectively manage waste. We continue to look into municipal plastics bylaws and their impact on residents and the business community,” McIver said in a statement emailed to the Fitzhugh.

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